A Look Back at Top Gun – Part 2: The Soundtrack

In my previous entry I took a look at the blockbuster movie Top Gun; now let me turn your attention to the soundtrack of the same Top Gun.  This soundtrack serves as an excellent example of what many ‘80s movie used as a clear, intentional, and clever promotion.  There are several examples of hit movies that also had hit soundtracks, like my previous entries on Footloose and Pretty in Pink.  It is clear that this combination was a purposeful way to flood the pop culture market through multiple means of exposure.

The three soundtracks from the ‘80s that I have featured have inadvertently been done so in the order in which I would rank them as far quality and enjoyment.  Top Gun is an excellent soundtrack that works extremely well in enhancing the movie.  The songs are used to make the aerial sequences more exciting and the love scenes more romantic.  The film only features a few of the songs with more than just snippets or as background music.  Unlike Footloose, Top Gun is not music based, therefore does not rely on the songs to represent character’s traits or emotions.  The songs in Top Gun also provide no clear connection to the theme of the film like the songs in Pretty in Pink do.  Ultimately though, this is a solid soundtrack with good songs that are easy to listen to.  There are no real dips in the quality of the songs and most of them clearly fit the tone of the film.

Like the film, which was the most successful one of 1986, the soundtrack also sold well.  It reached the top of Billboard’s album charts for a total of five weeks (although they were not consecutive weeks).  During the months of August through October Top Gun battled with the likes of Madonna and Lionel Richie for album supremacy.  All told, the soundtrack sold nine million copies, making it not only one of the top albums of 1986, but the twentieth best-selling album of the decade.  The album also spawned four Top 40 singles, with Berlin’s Take My Breath Away reaching all the way up to #1.

Track Listing:

Danger Zone by Kenny Loggins (#2) – Yes, Kenny Loggins is back and making another appearance on an ‘80s soundtrack, strengthening his legacy as the soundtrack king.  This song was a massive hit on the radio and was in high rotation on MTV.  The song is perfectly placed (several times) during the film’s aerial sequences.  It has the right amount of guitar and builds nicely.  Lyrically the song matches the action of the film as well, “Highway to the danger zone / Gonna take it right into the danger zone.”

Mighty Wings by Cheap Trick – There is never a problem with Cheap Trick making an appearance on any soundtrack.  This song strikes me as being very similar to Danger Zone – good energy, driving guitars, and lyrics that sound like planes speeding across the sky.

Playing with the Boys by Kenny Loggins (#60) – Here we have yet another appearance by Loggins and the final single released from the soundtrack.  This song has been beat up a bit due to it’s placement in the film.  It is paired with the volleyball scene where Maverick and Goose take on their rivals in a sand volleyball match.  Take the chorus of this song and three very well-built men without shirts, and the jibes are easy to figure out.  The song is upbeat and fun.  It may not be one of Loggins’ best, but it is a good song that has an intensely catchy hook.

Lead Me On by Teena Marie – This is the first track that could be considered more of a dance song.  There are some clear rhythm guitars that help connect to the other songs, but it is clearly not a priority.  It surfaces in the film during an evening out in the clubs, so it is fitting.

Take My Breath Away by Berlin (#1) – This is easily the biggest hit on the soundtrack, a breakthrough song for Berlin, and one of the best love songs from the ‘80s.  Obviously, it is used in the scenes that feature Tom Cruise and Kelly McGillis.  The song is played nearly in it’s entirety the first time, but an instrumental version is used throughout the second half of the film.  Berlin had a moderate hit before this song with No More Words and would follow with Like Flames, but none of their other songs would reach the heights of this one.  The most memorable part of this song is that killer bass line – within three or four notes the song is easily recognized and the swaying starts.

Hot Summer Nights by The Miami Sound Machine – After achieving wild success in Holland, this band was gaining strength here in America.  While this song was never released as a single, the Latin influenced rhythms make it recognizable as the same band who hit with Conga and Bad Boy.  This song helped build their reputation and lead the way for future hits like Rhythm is Gonna Get You.

Heaven in Your Eyes by Loverboy (#12) – Full disclosure:  I am a huge Loverboy fan. This is great song that, I feel, should have been a bigger hit.  It is clearly in the shadow of the big love song Take My Breath Away, but it does deserve it own recognition.  It has the classic Loverboy sound with strong vocals by Mike Reno and solid guitar work by Paul Dean.  This song showed up on every mix tape that I made for my girlfriend.  It is a simple love song, but it did work, capturing a simple, powerful sentiment, “In your eyes, I want to see your love again / In your eyes, I never want this feeling to end / It took some time to find the light, but now I realize / I can see the heaven in your eyes.”

Through the Fire by Larry Greene – On a strange note:  this song was listed in the closing credits, but was never played in the movie – I checked (twice) – and this is a fact. It is a good guitar driven song – too bad they could not find a place for it in the final cut of the movie.

Destination Unknown by Marietta – Another decent song that did not have a major role in the film.  It has a catchy chorus and a good beat.  It does not really distinguish itself on the soundtrack itself, but is not a bad song.

Top Gun Anthem by Harold Faltermeyer and Steve Stevens – I am pretty sure this instrumental has the most film time; it is played in multiple scenes, most of them containing some sort of plane.  The song has an excellent guitar based theme and builds to a fantastic climax.  It is one of those instrumentals that you hum constantly after hearing it just once.

As a junior in high school I loved both the movie Top Gun and the soundtrack Top Gun.  I clearly remember watching the movie over and over after I bought it on VHS.  It was one of the first movies to be released on VHS for an affordable price due to a commercial being placed before the feature presentation.  I also clearly remember listening to the soundtrack over and over – quickly memorizing it.  Now, nearly thirty years later, I think the soundtrack stands up to the test of time better than the film.

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